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eduwonkette flies over to GothamSchools: NYC Graduation Rates

NYC Readers - Wondering what's going on with the graduation rates that were released this week? Head on over to GothamSchools, where I will be posting occasionally on NYC education issues, and check out a map of 4-year cohort graduation rates across the city.

Meanwhile: Where will NCLB accountability go next? If you answered "Music Education," you win!

Joel Klein unleashes four innocuous questions on music educators.
Question #1: What is the relationship between inputs and outputs in arts education?

Hey, Eduwonkette, be a pal and cross-post my comments for me. Thanks!

Be very careful how you answer these questions. Every public school music teacher who reads the blog should be very concerned. This is not a casual survey. This is Joel Klein, a highly influential education reformer, asking you define how he can evaluate music teachers and music programs -- a No Child Left Behind for Music. The answers could define what you teach, how you teach, how you and your students are evaluated, and how you are paid for years to come. Imagine that the answers your committee provides become THE STANDARD for how music educators and public school music programs are evaluated.

For those who need the background, here is what is going on. No Child Left Behind (NCLB) is a public school accountability program put in place in 2001. It was a "bipartisan" policy set in place in the patriotic fog right after 9-11 when no one dared disagree with the President. The accountability system uses standardized tests in grades 3-8, math and English to "hold schools accountable" for student achievement. Despite warnings from testing/statistics experts that the kinds of tests and system being devised would lead to countless miss-judgments about schools, the system was put in place anyway. Some people were pushed and some people were promised money. Typical politics, no worse than the decision-making that lead to the war in Iraq or anything else enacted by a bipartisan vote in Washington.

Most of the informed predictions about the system have come to pass and the Department of Education has tried applying all kinds of statistical band-aids to stop the bleeding, but almost everyone except the head of the US Department of Education now agrees that the system is fundamentally flawed. The system simply does not do a good job of telling us which schools are better than others and the system has not improved student achievement. The tests often do not even accurately identify the skills and knowledge of individual students. Two different standardized tests of the same basic material constantly result in very different scores. In particular, the policies of NCLB have not helped to diminish differences between racial groups, contrary to the public comments of NY Mayor Bloomberg who was recently exposed for cherry-picking data to hype his own success.

However, the creation of a large battery of tests has lead some reformers to decide that, although the system is flawed for judging schools and students, the same tests may be useful for judging teachers. Using these tests to award salaries solves a very difficult financial problem the country is facing. The US is going to need more and more teachers, but we no longer are willing to pay them the way we did in the past. Teacher salaries based on years of experience and advanced degrees, salaries coupled with substantial retirement benefits, will soon no longer be the norm. Just ask any other American in a union, including those in the musicians' union. But instead of awarding raises based on test results, which would be expensive, these plans award a one-time bonus based on test scores. The advantage of a bonus system that claims to reward only the best teachers is twofold. It works from a public relations standpoint. Who can argue with paying the best more? And it solves the problem of salaries. You could completely break free from mandatory contracted raises based on the old system. You could easily navigate away from any pension plan.

But the use of test scores to evaluate teachers has run into some real technical problems. For example, the STAR system instituted by Jeb Bush in Florida was so bad at judging teachers that, given a luck-of-the-draw chance at a pot of bonus money, thousands of teachers refused to play and it was eliminated. Likewise, thousands of teachers in Texas opted out when offered the same gamble by Rick Perry. They were the lucky ones. When the state ruled that financial bonuses had to be made public, teachers in Dallas and Houston who did participate had their names and bonus salaries printed in the newspaper. This only revealed that the systems implemented were top heavy, serving administrators the cake and leaving teachers the crumbs. And many teachers, even those rewarded, questioned the accuracy of the results. In North Carolina, facing budget shortfalls, the state just cut funding for teacher bonuses. It is difficult to cut salaries, but very easy to eliminate money that was not really guaranteed. A bonus system has many advantages.

How bad are these systems? Two examples. In New York City, Klein implemented a scorecard for schools so unreliable that the city ignored many of the "F" grades it had provided when it decided which schools to close. Klein's plan to implement that plan for teachers lead the state to actually ban -- to make illegal -- the use of student test scores to judge teachers for the next two years. In DC, Michelle Rhee, another famed reformer, is currently trying to bribe younger teachers to take a higher initial salary if they are willing to accept whatever teacher evaluation system she decides to implement, not knowing what that is. It is financial Russian Roulette for teachers -- all or none, unless all is none. Despite extensive evidence that these measuring systems are highly flawed, they persist. Even teachers unions, like the AFT lead by Randi Weingarten, were willing to sign on for this experiment in NY. Why? Because the American people want "Accountability" as people like Klein have defined it, and too many Americans are simply no longer willing to pay teachers according to a set of guarantees they themselves no longer enjoy. Such is life in America these days.

But there is one major problem Klein and company have not been able to overcome: How to pay teachers who don't teach the tested subjects like math and reading. For example, music teachers. These teachers often complain when left out a deal. No music teacher wants a bonus based on the school's reading test scores. What happens when your name is published in the paper with the amount of your bonus? How will you explain to your neighbors why you got your $2,000 if everything is based on reading and math?

So, these four questions are intended to provide a method by which Klein and company can implement an accountability system like NCLB for music educators and music programs. But what makes these questions so pernicious is that reflect a uniquely Kleinian view of education. One last bit of background for the uninformed. There is currently a raging debate about which factors influence student learning. This determines which factors can be used in an accountability system to judge teachers and schools. One camp says that a student's home life, his or her early childhood experiences, his or her maturity and motivation, and a wide variety of other factors beyond the control of the school and the teacher matter. The other camp, the Klein camp, believes that the teacher and the school have the greatest influence -- no matter what. They believe that a good teacher can make great progress with any student, no matter where the student is staring academically, no matter what his or her homelife, or parents, or anything. Nothing else matters except the teacher and the school. Much of the “evidence” for this view comes from a misinterpretation of a statistical procedure. Studies showing that statistical methods could “control” for differences between students were misinterpreted to suggest that those differences don't matter in the classroom. You might notice that Klein's questions ask only about the factors he considers important and ignore the background questions.

As a music educator, do you believe the following factors influence a student's progress as a musician?

Whether a student is taking private lessons
Whether the child comes from a family with music (parents play, attend concerts)
The kinds of musical experiences the child had before kindergarten or band grades
The quality of the student's musical instrument, as paid for by parent(s)
Whether the parents monitor and encourage practice
Whether the student continues to play during the summer months

These do not even touch on deeper issues such as does the child come from a stable home without drugs and violence, does the child have transportation necessary to participate in after-school band activities, and is the school in a neighborhood where it would be safe to leave the building if band practice lasted until after the sun went down.

Klein does not ask what aspects of musical development might not be under the control of the teacher or the school, only about the ones that are. If you answered all of Klein's questions completely, it would be like playing only the left hand part of "Moonlight Sonata." Beethoven would be reduced to just a lot of d-minor arpeggios. Klein's questions, while they may seem comprehensive, are biased to encourage certain answers and ignore other evidence. If music educators on the committee answered only these questions, Klein could write a report and state: "This is what the best music educators in NY think makes a good music teacher/program." He could even tell people, as he is inclined to do, about his new accountability program for music education that had cracked the bonus pay problem. The best part is that it was designed by teachers themselves. Klein and his colleagues will be hosting a big party at the Democratic National Convention in Denver. Maybe he will release the plan then.

What should this committee do? At least, be very careful with your answers. Consider what would happen if your answers were taken as the complete and only truth. For example, what does Klein mean by "outputs"? He means what he can measure for accountability purposes. His dependent measure. This isn't name that tune; this is name that test. Pick your poison. Under NCLB, Reading and math teachers already have theirs, the standardized assessments the state gives. He is asking for yours. But be careful because he will use it. Once he has his output measure, he can run a statistic comparing teachers who participate in one kind of professional development or not. If the program doesn't show a statistical difference on the output between the two groups, he can cut funding for that. That may sound reasonable to someone concerned about cutting costs and doing what works, but if you did not define the output carefully, you might eliminate something that has important consequences just not as measured by your variable.

What if you said the primary output is "An understanding of basic music theory, the varieties and styles of music, and music's role in culture." It would be easy to build a multiple-choice test for that. The next thing you know, you would need to spend 30 days of class time prepping for a multiple-choice test instead of playing music. And, of course, your salary would eventually be based on the test results. If you do not believe this, go ask the reading teacher down the hall. And that professional development course you took that was so inspiring, the course that provided you will 10 helpful suggestions for beginning players or taught you how to introduce third-world rhythms? If that did not boost your students' test scores on Klein's output, the measure you suggested, forget it. No funding. These are tough economic times. If it doesn’t “work,” we can’t afford it.

When Klein asks what school-level variables are prerequisites, you may want to be careful. A vague answer like "Supportive principal" will leave you exposed. Why not the following, as a starter:

At least 2,000 square foot of dedicated space for music at every school
Collection of 12 or more instruments for student use, rent free, for unusual or expensive instruments like French Horn and Kettle Drum.
Regularly scheduled music below grade 6, at least one hour per day per week taught by a certified music teacher
Assignment of at least one full-time music educator for each school

If he is going to ask what it really takes, why not tell him what it really takes? And if his final report, which he will claim was developed with you, his arts committee, does not include all of your answers, you can write the NY Sun and ask why.

After 7 years of NCLB, many people are finally speaking out about the shortcomings of this system. People in the media, especially on blogs, are no longer willing to allow politicians who pride themselves as reformers to brag about the great success of their work when the data don't reflect that. The same people who pushed accountability are now learning the meaning of the old adage, "Live by the sword, die by the sword."

Please don't let bureaucrats like Klein do to music education what they have done to reading and math. If you are a music educator, please make every teacher you know aware of what is underway. Klein deserves credit for asking music educators how he should judge you. He wants your opinion. Now is the time to let him have it.

I think you best statement was that NCLB was "no worse than the decision-making that lead to the war in Iraq."

But reading your awesome post is like listening to great music, every time you see something new.

I wonder if you are not a little short-sighted though. Without metrics, how can you prove that your musical instruction produces more value added than watching a sunset?

On second reading, that was your point. Never mind.

Danger Will Robinson's symphony was all Allegro and very, very good indeed. (It did not sound, thankfully like Beethoven's Fifth but more like Eighth...) My question is for supporters of "Core Knowledge" - how about not lining up behind "Core Knowledge NAEP Testing?" i.e why it does not follow logically?

Comments are now closed for this post.


Recent Comments

  • GP: Danger Will Robinson's symphony was all Allegro and very, very read more
  • John Thompson: I think you best statement was that NCLB was "no read more
  • Danger Will Robinson: Meanwhile: Where will NCLB accountability go next? If you answered read more




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